It's the Middle Class, Stupid

Maggie Gallagher

11/15/2012 9:30:00 AM - Maggie Gallagher

And so it begins, like clockwork.

After an election defeat of significant proportions for the "truce strategy," GOP elites appear prepared to double-down on kicking out the social issues.

This week, Karl Rove appeared on stage in Naples, Fla., with James Carville in a rather dramatic jousting over the meaning of the across-the-board rejection of the Republican brand this election cycle.

According to Real Clear Politics, "Rove, shuffling through a red folder of election data in his lap, agreed that the GOP in 2016 should nominate 'a modernist' who can discuss an issue such as abortion by adroitly acknowledging the realities of the law and life while talking up alternatives to abortion. His message: 'You better damn well stop being judgmental.'"

Democrat Carville laughed when asked what he thought of Rove's claim that the GOP lost because Romney had moved right on social issues in the primary. "You've just been hit upside on the head," he pointed out.

Carville noted that 56 percent of voters believed the country was on the wrong track, according to polling, and unemployment hovered near 8 percent on Election Day, "and you honestly didn't come close."

Can the GOP rebuild its coalition by welcoming millions of Latino illegal immigrants to citizenship while jettisoning the social issues?

I wrote last week that anti-immigrant sentiment is not only imprudent, it is morally wrong. I urged the GOP to deliver on a Dream Act, perhaps with a "mom visa," and urged religious conservatives to take the lead in helping children of illegal immigrants caught between the law and a hard place, with no country to call their own. I personally voted for the Dream Act in Maryland this cycle, in part because my church asked me to, and in part because withholding compassion for these kids simply strikes me as wrong.

I still believe those things. I am open to arguments on other immigration reforms that are good for the country.

But if we look at the arguments in sheer political terms, the belief that the pathway to victory lies in expanding the Latino electorate while kicking out the social issues can only be described as "Kafkaesque."

Latinos are in some sense natural conservatives -- but not on GOP economic issues. You kick out the social issues and expand the Latino base and you have a recipe for ... what, exactly?

The core problem Republicans have yet to resolve is how to convince the middle class that electing Republicans will expand their economic opportunities, and/or mitigate their economic anxieties.

That's the heart of what failed -- and as Carville said, it failed spectacularly this cycle. "It's the middle class, stupid" is the inelegant title of his debate.

When a party decides it dislikes its own base, it has no pathway to succeed. When a movement decides the problem is the American people, it has announced its own death knell.

The biggest conservative failure was in not defining for voters why the economy collapsed and how President Obama contributed to its continuing deficiency -- and how a new GOP president would make them better off.

In the absence of a serious and persuasive public argument, voters stuck with the guy who seemed to be on their side.

Conservatives still have some serious thinking to do.